Lives Remembered

Sam McCready: 'Thank you for sharing your love'

Sam McCready with his wife Joan

FOUR years ago Michael Cameron drafted a script which told the story of Ruby Murray.

Without realising Sam McCready’s credentials, he emailed his work asking "What do you think?"

“Then I looked Sam up and realised what an amazing man of the theatre he was. I almost hoped the email would go astray.”

Sam liked the script but advised Michael: “Make it a monologue.”

He did and in an emotional tribute at the end of Wednesday’s opening night of Ruby at the Lyric Theatre, Michael honoured Sam’s memory and expressed his thanks. He invited us in the timely fashion to stand and applaud this special man.

The news we’d been dreading, the death of Sam McCready, came on Monday morning. It has saddened so many people because this man touched so many lives - a teacher, an artist, a man steeped in theatre, directing and acting.

Sometimes it’s hard to encapsulate one person’s true spirit and this is a case in point. Even in death Sam is there with his joy of achieving, no matter how small the challenge. Now he has succumbed to the greatest challenge of all and he bore his illness with dignity.

A few weeks ago Sam was delighted he’d finished another of his one-man shows to go alongside Percy French and Charles Dickens, and his paintings were ready for exhibition in the ArtisAnn Gallery in Belfast.

Sam McCready with his good friend artist Neil Shawcross and Neil’s portrait of Sam as Charles Dickens

The hundreds of Facebook messages of good wishes for a speedy recovery were always answered with positivity, hoping he’d get on top of his breathing difficulties, but it became too much, the replies ceasing after one posting where, looking frail, he spoke to us.

With a nightingale singing in the background he talked of his love of Keats and thanked us all for sharing thoughts and prayers that he said entered his very heart and brought him comfort. “Thank you for sharing your love.”

A neighbour in Baltimore, USA, where he lived, spoke of the times she happened along the Dickeyville path: “To stumble upon him rehearsing one play or another in his garden - his beautiful, beautiful, rose-filled, fragrant garden.”

Sam McCready. Picture by Hugh Russell

I first met Sam when I was 15. I was a chorus girl in the Mikado and when Sam as KoKo sang the tragic ‘Tit Willow’ I lost my heart to him.

Years later we sat in the Linen Hall Library - Sam, his wife Joan and me - and our conversation ranged from topic to topic, always flavoured with the joy of the arts.

Although they’d been married over 50 years, they were like young lovers.

Joan recalled: “We were both students at Stranmillis when I first saw Sam playing KoKo in the Opera House. I was excited by his voice, his enthusiasm and his professionalism.”

“Not long afterwards at Stranmillis College, I saw this little figure and I thought, I know you. You’re the Lord High Executioner.”

Sam McCready at the launch of the EastSide Arts Festival in 2014

He was immediately on her list and so began a golden circle of events which brought them together and kept them together. Sam added somewhat wistfully: “I thought she was absolutely beautiful but could I ever attain this goddess?”

I wondered if they ever quarrelled. They consulted each other: the answer was no, quibble sometimes, but never quarrel.

Sam McCready pictured by Hugh Russell in 2016

“That’s not to say we don’t have strong and differing opinions of lots of things," Sam said.

"I think the best way to sum it up is that here are two individuals, me and Joan, and then there’s a third person in our lives called ‘Sam ’n Joan’ and that’s the person we are most of the time.”

Sam McCready died aged 82 on Sunday in the United States. I send my deepest sympathies to Joan and her family.

Anne Hailes

Sam McCready died aged 82 on February 10

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Lives Remembered